Kocharian Joins Russian Company Board

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Former President Robert Kocharian has been formally appointed to the board of directors of a leading Russian corporation that controls Armenia’s largest mobile phone operator, it was announced on Monday.

In a written statement, the Moscow-based group AFK Sistema said the appointment was approved by its shareholders at an annual general meeting held over the weekend. It said Kocharian will have the status of an “independent director” in the 13-member board.

Kocharian was nominated for board membership by the Sistema management late last month. A company spokeswoman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that it took into account Kocharian’s extensive experience in international relations and his “good knowledge of CIS markets.” She said the former Armenian leader is also respected by the Russian business community.

The official, Yulia Belous, made clear that Kocharian, who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, will not have to relocate to Moscow as the Sistema board normally meets only twice a year. Nor will the new position place any limitations on his political activities at home, she said.

With a market capitalization of $29 billion, Sistema is Russia’s leading publicly listed financial corporation with extensive interests in telecommunications, energy, banking, mass media and other fields. Its key asset is Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), Russia’s largest mobile phone company.

MTS paid in September 2007 $430 million to buy a 80 percent stake in the Lebanese-owned company K-Telecom that founded and runs Armenia’s largest wireless network, VivaCell. K-Telecom had won its operating license in an essentially confidential tender held by the Kocharian government in late 2006.

Opposition politicians and media have for years alleged that Kocharian and members of his family have a major stake in VivaCell. But they have not offered any documentary proof of the claim.

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